7 Lessons Monogamists Can Learn From Polyamory
Multiple partners might not be your thing, but you can still learn a thing or two from the world of polyamory.
Let’s start with the disclaimer: I have never personally been polyamorous. I have no experience with those relationships myself. That’s why I reached out and found people who have lived in polyamorous relationships for at least five years to write this.
I’m a monogamist through and through. When I’m in a relationship, the thought of my partner making the same romantic and sexual connections with someone else that he has with me, makes me jealous and even a little insecure. I don’t want to share my partner with others in a romantic sense.
But I have always been intrigued by the inner workings of a polyamorous relationship. Wondering how they avoid jealousy and insecurity, how partners are ranked (or are they all equal?), how they make time and find energy for multiple relationships, and even the simplest question of them all: why would someone want multiple relationships?
While the answers to those are all interesting and different, what I found really interesting was that there were a few things about polyamory that some monogamous relationships could benefit from.
One person can’t meet all your needs
There’s often a fairy tale hope around monogamous relationships. It’s this idea that there’s a single person out there, a soulmate, who can meet all of your needs. They can be everything, do everything, and provide everything to you. You just have to find them.
That’s just not true. No one person can ever meet all the needs of another. This doesn’t mean they aren’t still your soulmate, the person you can love enough to spend your life with. But it does mean that you need other people to meet some of your needs.
For the polyamorist, this might mean having other partners. For the monogamist, it means creating a support system of friends, family, and others who can meet needs your partner cannot.
It also means assessing your needs and determining whether you really need someone else to meet them. Sometimes we think we need others to meet needs that we’re perfectly capable of meeting ourselves.
Be clear about commitment and expectations
In order for the relationships to work in polyamory, everyone has to be clear about the commitment they’re making. They have to realize that each relationship they’re committing to is real and has its own expectations.
They also need to discuss those expectations. This includes things like whether one relationship is primary or all are equal, whether dates can be brought to a shared home, and what information they want (or don’t want) about their partner’s other partners. And these expectations can be dramatically different in each relationship for the same person.
Monogamists sometimes tend to think a quick discussion answering the question “What are we?” or “Are we exclusive?” covers it. Agreeing to date exclusively or to get married is one step but there’s more to it than that.
It’s important to be clear with your partner about what the commitment of an exclusive relationship or a marriage means to you personally. It’s also important to discuss your expectations in the relationship in depth. In other words, it’s not enough to say cheating is a deal breaker. You need to define what you consider to be cheating — is it sex, or is it merely flirting? Where is that line for you?
These discussions allow both partners in a monogamous relationship to know what they’re agreeing to — and to take a step back and reconsider the relationship if the commitment or expectations aren’t quite what they’re looking for.
Clear communication is vital
When you have multiple relationships, communication is vital to avoid hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Whether it’s as simple as making sure one partner knows you have plans with a different partner on Wednesday, or as complex as sitting down to discuss a problem in one of your relationships, polyamorists have to have good communication skills.
It’s a good lesson for monogamists to learn. Assumptions can be made that create conflict. You assume your partner will attend a work event with you, without asking to learn they have plans with friends or a work event of their own. Or you assume they’re aware of your irritation over something they did and you get more annoyed when they don’t apologize, when they’re totally clueless that you’re upset.
Clear communication isn’t optional in any relationship, but many people never truly learn how to handle open, honest communication. If you think you need to work on your communication in your relationship, a few visits with a couples’ counselor can help you get back on track.
Be in touch with your emotions
Multiple relationships means multiple emotions. You can be angry and arguing with one partner, and giddily in the honeymoon phase with another. And if you’re not in touch with your emotions, you can unintentionally spill your anger at the first partner over onto the second.
Being in touch with your emotions allows you to recognize when your feelings are related to your partner or your relationship and when they’re related to someone else. This, in turn, means you can avoid taking things out on your partner that have nothing to do with them. It also means you’ll find it easier to talk to your partner when there’s a problem.
By being in touch with your emotions, you can also gain a little more control over them. You might still be angry at your partner, but you can take a breath and address it calmly instead of yelling or storming out.
This will make for better communication and that will lead to a better relationship overall.
Clear boundaries matter
As previously stated, polyamorists have to discuss things like relationship hierarchy, whether dates can come to a shared home, and what information will or won’t be shared about other partners. All of these discussions are about setting boundaries around each relationship and each individual.
Boundaries aren’t just important for polyamory, though. They matter in a monogamist relationship too.
Coming back to the idea of a fairy tale love, there’s the idea that “two become one” in a monogamist relationship. And in some ways, that may hold true. You are one couple and in many areas of life, you do have to act as a unit — as parents, as homeowners, etc.
But you’re also still two separate individuals, each with your own interests, hobbies, thoughts, ideas, hopes, dreams — and privacy. Many people recoil at the thought of privacy in a relationship, equating it with secrecy.
But secrecy is about deliberately hiding something from someone, where privacy is simply believing that you don’t have to include someone else. A good example I saw someone share once was pooping. Privacy is being able to close the door while you’re pooping, while secrecy is pretending you don’t poop at all. (Yes, it’s a gross analogy, but it certainly works, doesn’t it?)
Boundaries matter and it’s important that you both set them and respect them.
Enjoy time alone
Polyamorous couples need to be able to enjoy time alone. If your partner has plans with another partner tonight, and you have no plans with anyone, you need to be happy spending that time alone and be able to fill that time. If not, you’re likely to be a very unhappy person.
This is true for monogamous couples as well. Your partner might have a work event to attend for employees only, or they might want to enjoy an afternoon golfing or playing video games with friends.
But don’t just enjoy time alone. Embrace it. Be grateful that you get that time to indulge your hobbies or explore new interests. Be glad you get to have a lunch or dinner that your partner hates.
Appreciate that you get to have that time to do whatever you want without compromise or clearance from someone else. And don’t forget to give your partner the same opportunity.
Make time for the two of you as a couple
Polyamorists have to balance multiple relationships, which means actively making sure they make time for each relationship. They can’t phone it in by assuming an evening spent at home on the couch, scrolling phones side-by-side, is quality time.
Monogamists can sometimes forget this. You get caught up in parenting, working, taking care of the house, and a million other parts of life. Actively making time for the two of you as a couple sometimes falls by the wayside. Date night becomes nothing more than some tired obligatory sex because you said you would.
Take your cue from polyamorists and actively make time for the two of you as a couple. Hire a sitter, schedule time off work, whatever steps you need to take to ensure that you and your partner have time together without interruptions from kids, work, or anything else.
And just as polyamorists wouldn’t do the same activities with each partner, make sure you shake things up when you spend time with your partner. You might go to dinner one time so you can have a lingering conversation, and go skydiving another time so you get the shared adrenaline rush, and then head to the beach another time for a long, lazy weekend.
Learn from the lifestyle
Polyamory may not be for you — it’s not for me, either. But in some ways, polyamorists might have a leg up on us when it comes to having healthy, happy relationships. Balancing and maintaining multiple relationships requires them to put in effort that monogamists sometimes forget about.
You don’t have to live the lifestyle to learn some valuable relationship lessons from it. You might be amazed at the difference it makes to your relationship.
Wendy Miller is a freelance relationship writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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